How to know if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish? I can help you with that!
The grammatical gender is an arbitrary classification that divides nouns into two types: masculines or feminines.
Not only in Spanish, but also in other Romance and non-Romance languages, such as German and Russian.
However, the gender in Spanish language can be really tricky sometimes.
The general rule is that words ending with -o are masculine and words ending with -a are feminine.
But then you find out that it’s la foto, not el foto. Or el agua in singular, while las aguas in plural.
Don’t worry! These key rules will make it easier for you!
How to know if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish
It’s important to know the grammatical gender of a noun in Spanish because all of the elements referring to them (articles, adjectives, pronouns…) will agree in grammatical gender, too:
El libro es fantástico.
La película es fantástica.
There are some rules that you can follow when it comes to identifying masculine and feminine in Spanish.
I’m going to list them one by one, and also I will teach you what the exceptions are if there are any.
Masculine words in Spanish
Nouns ending with -o
All of the nouns ending with -o are usually masculine: el bolígrafo, el dinero, el edificio, el vaso, etc.
Exceptions: la mano, la radio, la moto, la foto.
The last three of them are actually abbreviations of feminine compound words: la radiofonía, la motocicleta, la fotografía.
It makes sense, right?
Nouns ending with -aje and -or
Nouns ending with -aje are usually masculine: el masaje, el garaje, el paisaje, el pasaje, el peaje, etc.
The same goes for nouns ending with -or: el amor, el dolor, el error, el sabor, etc.
Exception: la flor.
Because why not?
Rivers, oceans, seas
Names of rivers, oceans, and seas are always masculine: el Río de la Plata, el Amazonas, el Misisipi, el Atlántico, el Pacífico, el Mediterráneo, etc.
Cardinal directions are masculine, too: el norte, el sur, el este, el oeste.
Languages are masculine: el español, el inglés, el portugués, el mandarín, el ruso, etc.
Colors are always masculine, even if they end with -a: el rojo, el negro, el azul, el naranja, el púrpura, etc.
Days and months
Days and months are masculine: el lunes, el miércoles, el sábado, este abril, ese enero, etc.
Feminine words in Spanish
Nouns ending with -a
Nouns ending with -a are usually feminine: la mesa, la cama, la casa, la palabra, etc.
Exceptions: el mapa, el día, el planeta, el sofá, el problema, el tema, el sistema, el idioma, el drama, etc.
Do you see those words ending with -ma? They actually come from Ancient Greek and they are all masculine: el dilema, el emblema, el teorema, el fonema, el lexema…
Exceptions to that rule are la crema and la yema, which come from French and Latin respectively.
Nouns ending with -ción, -sión, -dad, -tad, and -tud
Nouns ending in -ción, -sión, -dad, -tad and -tud are feminine: la canción, relación, la televisión, la expresión, la ciudad, la verdad, la libertad, la amistad, la solicitud, la juventud, etc.
A lot of them are identical or almost identical to words you already know in English!
Read 250 words that are the same in English and Spanish and Spanish words that are similar to English words to boost your vocabulary right away!
Nouns ending with -dez and -umbre
Nouns ending with -dez and -umbre are usually feminine, too: la solidez, la desnudez, la costumbre, la incertidumbre, etc.
The letters of the alphabet are feminine: la a, la be, la ce, la de, etc.
A special case! Feminine words with masculine articles
We use the masculine definite article (el) in singular with feminine nouns that start with an A when the stress is put on the first syllable.
We do this in order to avoid a cacophony, a mixture of unpleasant sounds to our ears.
That’s why agua, a feminine noun, in singular is el agua. Otherwise, it would sound like laaagua.
The L cuts that unpleasant sound: el agua.
You will notice that when adjectives modify such words, they are feminine:
¿El agua está fría o tibia? (= Is the water cold or lukewarm?)
Also, in plural they keep the feminine definite article (las), because the S avoids the cacophony: las aguas.
More examples: área (el área/las áreas), aula (el aula/las aulas), águila (el águila/las águilas), etc.
With these nouns in singular, the indefinite article (un/una) is masculine, too: un aula, un águila, etc. Although it’s not really incorrect to use the feminine form, it’s less common.
But be careful! When using demonstrative pronouns (esta, esa, aquella) with these words, they stay feminine. Even if the nouns are in singular!
Esta área / Esta aula / Esta águila
And if there’s another word between the definite article (el/la) and the noun, we use the feminine article:
La extensa área / La imponente aula / La hermosa águila
Masculine or feminine? Use a dictionary!
Sometimes you can’t tell if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish only by its form. In those cases, you can always look it up on a dictionary, such as the Diccionario de la Lengua Española.
Dictionaries always indicate the grammatical gender of a noun!
Now let’s see how to know if a word is masculine or feminine in Spanish when talking about people and animals…
Masculine and feminine in Spanish for people and animals
Nouns ending with -or / consonant
Nouns that refer to people and animals have two forms. The masculine form is the one that appears on a dictionary.
Generally, if the masculine form ends with an -o, to form the feminine you just need to replace it with an -a:
El chico -> La chica
El perro -> La perra
If the masculine form ends witn a consonant, to form the feminine we just add an -a:
El profesor -> La profesora
El león -> La leona
Nouns ending with -e
They usually have the same form for masculine and feminine: el/la estudiante, el/la cantante, el/la agente, el/la paciente, etc.
An exception is nene (colloquial term for little kid): el nene -> la nena.
However, with some specific nouns (especially when we talk about professions) we do replace the -e with an -a, and both forms are correct:
El presidente -> La presidente / La presidenta
El gerente -> La gerente / La gerenta
El jefe -> La jefe / La jefa
El cliente -> La cliente / La clienta
Nouns ending with -ista, -ía, and -(a)tra
When they refer to professions, words ending with -ista have the same form for masculine and feminine: el/la dentista, el/la artista, el/la periodista, el/la pianista.
We can include el/la cineasta within this group.
It’s the same for words ending with -ía: el/la espía, el/la policía, el/la guía.
And with -(a)tra, especially in the medical field: el/la foniatra, el/la pediatra, el/la obstetra.
Grammatical gender in Spanish: special cases for people
Sometimes we have a different word for each sex:
El hombre -> La mujer
El padre -> La madre
El padrina -> La madrina
Or specific endings for both:
El actor -> La actriz
El rey -> La reina
El alcade -> La alcaldesa
Grammatical gender in Spanish: special cases for animals
Just the same as what happens with people, sometimes we have different words for each sex:
El caballo -> La yegua
El toro -> La vaca
Or special endings:
El gallo -> La gallina
El tigre -> La tigresa
Many words have an only form, masculine or feminine:
El tiburón, el cocodrilo, el dinosaurio, el pulpo, etc.
La jirafa, la hormiga, la tortuga, etc.
In those cases, if we want to specify the sex, we need to add macho (male) or hembra (female):
La cocodrilo El cocodrilo hembra El jirafa La jirafa macho
Different gender, different meaning
Finally, a word can change its meaning according to its ending. Here there are some examples:
El manzano (tree) – La manzana (fruit)
El naranjo (tree) – La naranja (fruit)
El cuadro (picture) – La cuadra (block)
El cuento (tale) – La cuenta (account, sum)
Sometimes the word is the same and we can only figure out the meaning with the articles or pronouns that go with them:
El capital (money) – La capital (capital city)
El cura (priest) – La cura (cure)
El editorial (editorial) – La editorial (publisher)
El pendiente (earring) – La pendiente (slope)
And that’s all for today!
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